Friday, November 20, 2009

Learning to Dive Blog- Day 1- Buying the Equipment

It rained heavily today. The sky was the color of smoke, and the thought of actually going to Thailand in the spring to scuba dive hovered in the front of my mind. I had purposefully told everyone of my plan to travel to the exotic Island of Ko Toa as insurance that I would adventure out alone, thus living the ending of the third version of my novel. The idea of finishing a novel was as distant as the Island of Ko Toa, however the turquoise blue water and white sandy beaches seduced on a day like today, when color was absent from the landscape.

I needed to take a step toward turning this fantasy into a reality, so I grabbed my new pink I Phone from my purse and searched for dive shops near me. Eureka! I found one. I have always said that with an I Phone, I could handle anything. My search referred me to a dive shop only a few blocks away. With a quick U-turn, my Prius changed directions. I was going to learn how to dive.

I entered the empty shop guarded by a slender blond employee stocking masks on the front wall. There were two manikins dressed in scuba gear; one with the head of a sea otter and the other resembling Little Nemo in a wet suit. I loved this place.

“Hi. I want to learn to dive.”

“You have come to the right spot,” she grinned.

“Can you teach someone as old as me? I am 58,” and I waited for it.

“You don’t look 58.”

There it was. I don’t look nearly as old as I am. Oh well, I’ll make up the difference with my hiker’s stamina and a lot of jokes.

“Do I need to know how to swim well? I can swim, but I am not ready to enter the Olympics.”

“Oh no. Diving is a lazy man’s sport.” I liked this even more.

“The more energy you expend, the more oxygen you use. This is supposed to be easy.” Yes. Give me an underwater scooter. I’ll have those sharks on the run, except I don’t think sharks actually run.

Miriam, my new undersea buddy, asked about my plans for dive travel and announced happily that the certification course started in exactly one week. My timing could not have been better. The lessons would begin in a pool on Tuesday and end in the Puget Sound just before Christmas. My Christmas present to myself would be my diver’s certification.

“By the way, I hate being cold. I am used to the ocean in the southeast. I don’t even like swimming pool water unless it’s at body temperature.”

“Oh, the wet suit will keep you warm in the pool and the dry suit will, well, it will help in the Sound. Once you learn to dive here with us, you will be more prepared than anyone you could meet in Thailand.” Miriam smiled again. “I hate being cold too.”

Perhaps when I plunge into the dark frigid northwest waters in the dead of winter, my body will go into shock, and I will be spared the pain of the biting cold. I am going to do it anyway. Suit me up.

Brian joined us. He is the manager. They are both young and adorable. He handed me a stack of paperwork to sign, but the font was so small that my new pink magnifiers didn’t help. Do dive masks come with magnifiers? I reminded them that I was 58 years old. I waited. Here it comes. I look great for my age. OK, we can move on. Brian read the questions in order to save time. He hinted for me to answer “No” to everything asked. I raced through the double columns of health related issues; no asthma, no diabetes, no lung conditions.

“Any family history of heart problems?”

“My dad died of a heart attack at 54, but he smoked like a fiend. I am from North Carolina. Everyone smoked.”

“Answer: No.”

“Do you get motion sickness?”

“ I did get sea sick when I went fishing in Alaska. The Dramamine helped.”

“Answer: No.” OK.

“Have I passed out recently?”

Whoops, I was in San Francisco last week. I confessed of my wild night at the bar with my nephew, and Brian interrupted.

“Just write: No.” I did.

“Have I done anything, well, beyond wine?” I looked up at my second undersea buddy. “No,” said Brian.

“No,” I wrote. OK. I passed the questionnaire.

“You are going to get along great with us,” grinned my new friend.

I noticed that dive people grin all the time. So do I. I am going to love this sport.

“Doesn’t she remind you of Carol?”

I didn’t know who Carol was, but she must be fun. We all laughed, and I felt at home in the shop. Soon I would be home in the sea. I could hardly wait. The three of us ambled to the front wall displaying the dive masks.

“After safety and price, I want something that looks cute.”

Of course there is no such thing as a cute diving mask. I picked out the triangular shaped mask rimmed in Duke Blue. It looked high tech and fashionable. I sucked it onto my face to check the fit and burst out laughing. It fit. The cheaper clear generic one looked as if it came from the free bin at the health club pool. That would never do. I would gladly pay the extra thirty dollars to be underwater fashionable. I tried on the sleek, small black face mask. The menacing look would scare the shark. I know, because it scared me to look at my face in the mirror. Sold. I had to have it. I will be the Darth Vader of the sea.

Next came the booties, and then the flippers. Brian lectured, showing how the split fins emulate whales, allowing the water to efficiently propel one forward with ease. I must have the newest technology. Ease was important. The black paddle flippers looked like antiques. Now, I only needed to choose the color. The flippers came in red, yellow, blue and black.

“What colors do barracuda and shark like?” I inquired.

“They like red.”

“Great. Isn’t that the color of the life vests that they strap it around your body after you plane has crashed in the ocean?”
“That’s right.” Yikes. I don’t want red.

“How about yellow? If I had yellow fins, then my instructor would know where I am, and I won’t get left behind when the boat leaves for shore!”

“That’s why I wear yellow, so my students know where I am. But, if I had a choice, I would wear the black or blue.” Sold. Blue with black. I’ll blend in with the ocean, and the shark won’t find me.

”I’ll just kiss up to the dive boat captain, so he won’t leave me behind.” One more task handled on my path to becoming a deep sea diver.

Now to try on wet suits, so I won’t be cold in a swimming pool. We went immediately to the sale rack. How did Brian and Miriam know? Had I been complaining about the prices? Did they know that I am a Nordstrom Rack shopper? They sized me up, and handed me a sharp looking turquoise and black suit.

“It’s just like mine,” grinned Miriam.

I checked out the Little Nemo manikin and saw that suits fit skin tight and sexy. I like this sport.

I came out of the dressing room with the wet suit hanging on my body. The only suit small enough to fit me came in red. Now way, I am not shark bait, nor was I tempted by the race car driver look of the red and black underwater outfit. Mine will have to be ordered, and Miriam volunteered hers for the first night of class. We are already sharing clothes. What fun.

“When I get my dry suit for the open water dive, I want it really big. Make me look like the Michelin Tire Man. I want layers and layers of sweat suits underneath!” Everyone laughed but I was serious. I hate the cold.

At the cash register, I was practicing my French accent, emulating Jacques Cousteau.

“Zee coral reefs, zey are dying.”

Brian handed me the credit card receipt to sign.

“Yikes, how much did I spend?”

The cash register produced a tape as long as one from the grocery store. I had no idea that this sport was going to be so expensive. Large posters advertized dive trips to exotic places, islands in the Pacific Ocean such as Palou and Yap, countries like Indonesia, all with price tags that could easily buy a car. I am going to Thailand where a room will cost me ten dollars a day. I am glad that I will be bringing my own new, expensive equipment. State of the art is important for life support, and cheap is not a consideration when my life swims in the balance.

A bearded man my age entered and purchased a vest resembling a costume from Star Wars, with hoses and fittings that could sustain life on a Death Star. I see more money needed as I progress through this course. I’ll need a Star Wars vest as well. I can barely lift my new matching blue dive bag, and I have yet to purchase any metal objects. Diving is not for weaklings.

“Read your manual before class. There are tests at the end of each chapter. We’ll meet here on Tuesday night at 6.”

I emerged back in to the rain and my car. It was already dark and cold. I needed my new wet suit. Living in Seattle, I could see that a wet suit would come in handy. Without flippers, the suit, gloves and booties would be the perfect hiking ensemble. I grinned, with my newly acquired diver’s grin, at the thought being impervious to water and thus the rain.

And what if this sport is dangerous? If something happens to me when diving, and I appear on a heavenly cloud in full gear, wet suit and fins, dripping water from my flippers through the clouds as I wait to be checked in through the Pearly Gates, I will know that someone below will feel the drips of water slashing down from my cloud and onto their head. They will look around at the grey of the day, the lack of color in the landscape, and think of an exotic island with white sandy beaches and turquoise water. The passionate desire to learn to dive in the sea, imperious to water and cold, will consume them, and they too will suit up will a grin and dream of beating the shark at their own game.

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